NOTE: ALL QUOTATIONS ARE FROM Song of Myself by Walt Whitman.

Bruce Seaton
American Literature: Civil War- WWII
Prof. M. Cotsell
Responses: Song of Myself

1. What does grass signify for Whitman?

Despite his statement that he knows no more about the nature of grass than a young boy, to Whitman, grass seems to symbolize rebirth, or at least, the cycles of life. Grass grows above and is fed by the decomposition of the dead, and is a vibrant and defiant symbol of life in the face of a universally fatal world. Grass is the ‘beautiful uncut hair of graves,’ the ‘journey-work of the stars’, and shows us that ‘there is really no death.’

2. Is Whitman a materialist or idealist?

Whitman sees material existence in an idealist light; that is, the physical world of people, grass, birds, rocks, and water, is for him a paradise, a wonderland of self-contained peace. He is amazed, even childlike in his appreciation of natural existence, and in the coexistence of mankind. The laws of matter and existence are accepted, but are for him insufficient to explain the wonder of the world.

3. What connects Whitman's philosophy and expansionism in Song of Myself?

Whitman seems to see the world as containing infinite wonders, and so expansionism fits well with his lifestyle, though I think that if most expansionists had viewed the world as Whitman did, expansion would have been a more peaceful, humble, and wondering process than it was. Because people failed to look with Whitman’s childlike eyes at the world around them, expansion was a long, bloody, rapacious thing.

4 & 5. Discuss Whitman’s sexuality. Why is it so important?

Whitman is proudly sexual, practically screaming his homosexuality in a time when such behavior was deemed vile and exposure of homosexual tendencies could at least lead to one being eschewed by society. Whitman describes himself as one who ‘removes the veil’ of the ‘voices of sexes and lusts.’ I think that Whitman saw people as holy, and sex (between any two people) as a holy meeting of holy beings. He sees sexuality and sensuality as the prime Beauty in a beautiful world.

6. How does Whitman deal with pain and death?

Whitman sees beauty even in these, seeming to think of pain as yet another way to bring souls together. Pain is a thing to be explored, but unlike Shakespeare’s Iago, Whitman shares in the pain himself, rather than simply observing it in others. Death is simply a stage in the cycle that will eventually bring renewal in new life.